His Job Description

Duties of the Master of a Family

By: John Bunyan, 1628-1688

Author of Pilgrim's Progress
See the other part of the article here

If thou have under thee a family, then thou art to consider the several relations thou standest under; and art to know, that thou in each of them hast a work to do for God, and that he expecteth thy faithful deportment under every one of them. As, in general;

Duty of the Family in General

He that is the master of a family, he hath, as under that relation, a work to do for God; to wit, the right governing of his own family. And his work is twofold. First, Touching the spiritual state thereof. Second, Touching the outward state thereof.

First, As touching the spiritual state of his family; he ought to be very diligent and circumspect, doing his utmost endeavour both to increase faith where it is begun, and to begin it where it is not. Wherefore, to this end, he ought diligently and frequently to lay before his household such things of God, out of his word, as are suitable for each particular. And let no man question his rule in the word of God for such a practice; for if the thing itself were but of good report, and a thing tending to civil honesty, it is within the compass and bounds even of nature itself, and ought to be done; much more things of a higher nature; besides, the apostle exhorts us to 'Whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, pure, lovely, and of good report, to think of them,' that is, to be mindful to do them (Phil 4:8).

But to be conversant in this godly exercise in our family, is very worthy of praise, and doth much become all Christians. This is one of the things for which God so highly commended his servant Abraham, and that with which his heart was so much affected. I know Abraham, saith God, 'I know him' to be a good man in very deed, for 'he will command his children, and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord' (Gen 18:19). This was a thing also which good Joshua designed should be his practice as long as he had a breathing time in this world. 'As for me,' saith he, I 'and my household, we will serve the Lord' (Josh 24:15).

Further, we find also in the New Testament, that they are looked upon as Christians of an inferior rank that have not a due regard to this duty; yea, so inferior as not fit to be chosen to any office in the church of God. A [bishop or] pastor must be one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? 'The deacon' also, saith he, must 'be the husband of one wife, ruling their children, and their own house well' (1 Tim 3). Mark a little, the apostle seems to lay down thus much, that a man that governs his family well, hath one qualification belonging to a pastor or deacon in the house of God, for he that knoweth not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God? which thing considered, it giveth us light into the work of the master of a family, touching the governing of his house.

  1. A pastor must be sound and uncorrupt in his doctrine; and indeed so must the master of a family (Titus 1:9; Eph 6:4).
  2. A pastor should be apt to teach, to reprove, and to exhort; and so should the master of a family (1 Tim 3:2; Deut 6:7).
  3. A pastor must himself be exemplary in faith and holiness; and so also should the master of a family (1 Tim 3:2-4; 4:12). 'I,' saith David, 'will behave myself in a perfect way; I will walk in,' or before, 'my house with a perfect heart' (Psa 101:2).
  4. The pastor is for getting the church together; and when they are so come together, then to pray among them, and to preach unto them. This is also commendable in Christian masters of families.

Objection.

But my family is ungodly and unruly, touching all that is good. What shall I do?

Answer.
  1. Though this be true, yet thou must rule them, and not they thee! Thou are set over them of God, and thou art to use the authority which God hath given thee, both to rebuke their vice, and to show them the evil of their rebelling against the Lord. This did Eli, though not enough; and thus did David (1 Sam 2:24, 25; 1 Chron 28:9). Also, thou must tell them how sad thy state was when thou wast in their condition, and so labour to recover them out of the snare of the devil (Mark 5:19).
  2. Thou oughtest also to labour to draw them forth to God's public worship, if peradventure God may convert their souls. Saith Jacob to his household, and to all that were about him, 'Let us arise and go up to Bethel; and I will make there an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of my distress' (Gen 35:3). Hannah would carry Samuel to Shiloh, that he might abide with God for ever (1 Sam 1:22). Indeed a soul rightly touched, will labour to draw, not only their families, but a whole city after Jesus Christ (John 4:28-30).
  3. If they are obstinate, and will not go forth with thee, then do thou get godly and sound men to thy house, and there let the word of God be preached, when thou hast, as Cornelius, gathered thy family and friends together (Acts 10). You know that the jailor, Lydia, Crispus, Gaius, Stephanus, and others, had not only themselves, but their families, made gracious by the word preached, and that some of them, if not all, by the word preached in their houses (Acts 16:14-34; 18:7, 8; 1 Cor 1:16). And this, for ought I know, might be one reason among many, why the apostles taught in their day, not only publicly, but from house to house; I say, that they might, if possible, bring in those in some family, which yet remained unconverted, and in their sins (Acts 10:24; 20:20, 21). For some, you know how usual it was in the day of Christ, to invite him to their houses, if they had any afflicted, that either would not or could not come unto him (Luke 7:2, 3; 8:41). If this be the way with those that have outward diseases in their families, how much more then, where there are souls that have need of Christ, to save them from death and eternal damnation!
  4. 4. Take heed that thou do not neglect family duties among them thyself; as, reading the word and prayer; if thou hast one in thy family that is gracious, take encouragement; nay, if thou art alone, yet know that thou hast both liberty to go to God through Christ, and also art at that time in a capacity of having the universal church join with thee for the whole number of those that shall be saved.
  5. 5. Take heed that thou suffer not any ungodly, profane, or heretical books, or discourse in thy house. 'Evil communications corrupt good manners' (1 Cor 15:33). I mean such profane or heretical books, &c., as either tend to provoke to looseness of life, or such as do oppose the fundamentals of the gospel. I know that Christians must be allowed their liberty as to things indifferent; but for those things that strike either at faith or holiness, they ought to be abandoned by all Christians, and especially by the pastors of churches, and masters of families; which practice was figured out by Jacob's commanding his house, and all that was with him, to put away the strange gods from among them, and to change their garments (Gen 35:2). All those in the Acts set a good example for this, who took their curious books and burned them before all men, though they were worth fifty thousand pieces of silver (Acts 19:18, 19). The neglect of this fourth particular hath occasioned ruin in many families, both among children and servants. It is easier for vain talkers, and their deceivable works, to subvert whole households, than many are aware of (Titus 1:10, 11).

Thus much touching the spiritual state of thy household. And now to its outward.

Second, Touching the outward state of thy family, thou art to consider these three things.

  1. That it lieth upon thee to care for them that they have a convenient livelihood. 'If any man provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel' (1 Tim 5:8). But mark, when the Word saith, thou art to provide for thy house, it giveth thee no license to distracting carefulness; neither doth it allow thee to strive to grasp the world in thy heart, or coffers, nor to take care for years or days to come, but so to provide for them, that they may have food and raiment; and if either they or thou be not content with that, you launch out beyond the rule of God (1 Tim 6:8; Matt 6:34). This is to labour, that you may have wherewith 'to maintain good works for necessary uses' (Titus 3:14). And never object, that unless you reach farther, it will never do; for that is but unbelief. The word saith, 'That God feedeth ravens, careth for sparrows, and clotheth the grass;' in which three, to feed, clothe, and care for, is as much as heart can wish (Luke 12:6-28).
  2. Therefore though thou shouldest provide for thy family; yet let all thy labour be mixed with moderation; 'Let your moderation be known unto all men' (Phil 4:5). Take heed of driving so hard after this world, as to hinder thyself and family from those duties towards God, which thou art by grace obliged to; as private prayer, reading the scriptures, and Christian conference. It is a base thing for men so to spend themselves and families after this world, as that they disengage their heart to God's worship. Christians, 'The time is short: it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away' (1 Cor 7:29-31). Many Christians live and do in this world, as if religion were but a by-business, and this world the one thing necessary; when indeed all the things of this world are but things by the by; and religion only the one thing needful (Luke 10:40-42).
  3. If thou wouldst be such a master of a family as becomes thee, thou must see that there be that Christian harmony among those under thee, as becomes that house where one ruleth that feareth God.
  • (1.) Thou must look that thy children and servants be under subjection to the word of God; for though it is of God only to rule the heart, yet he expecteth that thou shouldest rule their outward man; which if thou dost not, he may in a short time cut off all they stock, [even every male] (1 Sam 3:11-14). See therefore that thou keep them temperate in all things, in apparel, in language, that they be not gluttons, nor drunkards; not suffering either thy children vainly to domineer over thy servants, nor they again to carry themselves foolishly towards each other.
  • (2.) Learn to distinguish between that injury that in thy family is done to thee, and that which is done to God; and though thou oughtest to be very zealous for the Lord, and to bear nothing that is open transgression to him; yet here will be thy wisdom, to pass by personal injuries, and to bury them in oblivion: 'Love covereth a multitude of sins.' Be not then like those that will rage and stare like madmen, when they are injured; and yet either laugh, or at least not soberly rebuke, and warn, when God is dishonoured. 'Rule thy own house well, having thy children with others in thy family in subjection, with all gravity' (1 Tim 3:4). Solomon was so excellent sometimes this way, that he made the eyes of his beholders to dazzle (2 Chron 9:3, 4).

Original author: John Bunyan.